Body discrimination or what some call “fat shaming” can start at a very early age. It is the belief of some researchers that children as young as three have already learned to pick out the “good” and the “bad” bodies and I know this to be true.
Once, while eating out with a friend, I witnessed a little girl who appeared to be around three or four years-old stare down a lady as she walked by and say, “Wow! She’s too fat!” The rude statement was overheard by the lady to whom it was directed and those of us who were in the dining area. This was definitely a teachable moment for the young child. However, although the adults who were sitting with her tried to hush her, they appeared amused by what the child had said.
I wondered how she even knew about body size at her age and even more so, how many times she had said the same hurtful things to more vulnerable overweight children. I also thought about the adults with her and what they were teaching or allowing to be taught. Why would they think this type of behavior was acceptable or funny? Did they not know that these words and actions can inflict life-long damage to self-esteem? Did they even care?
Out of curiosity and mostly concern, I conducted a little experiment with my self-esteem mentoring group’s children, ranging from six to ten year-olds. I showed them photos of overweight children and asked them to tell me what they saw in the photos. They responded with words like, nasty, fatty, Dumbo the Elephant and ugly. Sadly, even the overweight children in the group gave some of these descriptions. This concerned me greatly, especially because these were the children of adults who had been in a self-esteem program with me for nearly a year. Were they passing anything they had learned on to their children or had they really learned anything?
Where do children get this? The truth is, it not only comes from adults, but also television and social media. And it also comes from other children. For me, there is not doubt that other children have witnessed this same little girl inflict those or similar words on others. And other children witnessing this type behavior have likely become “copy cats” and have in turn done the same to other children. While adults may not be as blatant about it, some of them are guilty of image and body discrimination also. This is an issue of all ages.
As a former Human Resources Director, I have provided guidance to selecting officials who were hesitant to hire highly qualified candidates for high profile positions because of the candidate’s body stature/weight. Even though they were physically cleared by medical providers and had come out on top in all aspects of the hiring process, the “image” and “weight issues” were more important to some managers than having the most qualified individual in the position.
Making people feel bad about their body and their weight does absolutely nothing to help them. In fact, in many cases, it probably does just the opposite. I recently read a report that stated people who are discriminated against because of their weight are more likely to become more or stay obese. We can’t tease or scare people into being skinny.
My journey to self-acceptance and self-love has helped me to change so many bad habits, and cleaner eating is one of them. Understanding why and then deciding to do something about it, if you can, is where it must all begin.
Sometimes the reason for weight gain is medical and often there is nothing you can do. I know this to be true because I suffer from a lung and lymph node disease and steroids are the only treatment. Whenever I have flare ups and taking the medication is necessary, it has resulted in weight gain. That, for me, is a part of the self-acceptance. I have this disease…I must take the steroids to treat it…and weight gain is likely to occur as a result of it.
Not everyone has reached a level of self-acceptance or self-love and even if they should lose the weight, many would still see an obese image of themselves when they looked in the mirror. You see, it takes a lot more than weight loss to become a whole and healthy person. And there are some who have tried every diet known to mankind without success or without keeping the weight off, because being overweight is not just about burning calories. Often it is also about dealing with buried feelings and emotions.
So if you are one to ridicule, discriminate against or bully someone for being overweight, just know that they don’t need your judgment. They judge themselves much more harshly each time that they look in the mirror, because they do not like the reflection they see. They have a lot more to deal with than losing the weight. What they need from you is understanding, support, and prayer if you are a praying person. Changing their life and getting their BMI out of the obese range is not only about losing weight…it is about learning to love themselves from the inside out.
Teresa L. Holmes